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A Zen tale that raises the question about the heavens and hells that we create for ourselves.

The bones of the story:

  • A samurai approached a master, and asked: “Is there really a paradise and a hell?”
  • “Who are you?” inquired the master.
  • “I am a samurai,” the warrior replied.
  • “You, a soldier!” exclaimed the master. “What kind of ruler would have you as his guard? Your face looks like that of a beggar.”
  • The samurai became so angry that he began to draw his sword, but the master continued: “So you have a sword! Your weapon is probably much too dull to cut off my head.”
  • As the master drew his sword the master remarked: “Here open the gates of hell!”
  • At these words the samurai, perceiving the master’s discipline, sheathed his sword and bowed.
  • “Here open the gates of paradise,” said the master.


  • Zen flesh, zen bones : a collection of Zen and pre-Zen writings by Reps, Paul, 1895-1990; Senzaki, Nyogen, p72.
  • Spinning Tales, Weaving Hope: Stories, Storytelling, and Activities for Peace, Justice and the Environment Paperback by Ed Brody (Editor), Jay Goldspinner (Editor), Katie Green (Editor), Rona Leventhal (Editor), Holly Near (Foreword), p113.